The Death of Frank Henry
With a crackle of electricity and seemingly the light of a thousand suns, everything seemed to shift. And I felt … different.
There was no mistaking it – I was dead. Well, not me. Frank Henry. The man whose memories and body I had just stolen.
No. Not stolen. His body was gone, vaporized into atoms. This one was mine, assembled by what was essentially the world’s most advanced 3D printer, just 10 feet to the left.
The door of the pod in front of me opened with a hiss. I saw the excited faces of the dead man’s colleagues, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them the truth. As far as they could tell, the experiment was a success. Just like the animal subjects we used previously, I didn’t show any outward signs of change afterwards. Inside, though, I felt it.
I couldn’t point to anything specific that had changed. Something beyond the memories and consciousness, the core of Frank Henry’s being, had disappeared. And something else, me, had replaced him.
The other lab workers popped a bottle of champagne and cheered me on. I didn’t say anything, but I felt like a liar just by standing there existing. I was supposed to log the experience while it was fresh in my mind, but everyone was too excited to notice or care when I didn’t.
Once the champagne ran out, the party moved to Shelley’s Pub, the local university hangout. I didn’t really feel like being around people, but I dreaded going home more; besides, it was a good excuse to get blasted and escape from the world for a while.
Someone bought a round of shots, but the feeling of betrayal in my stomach burned worse than the whiskey did. After a few more rounds of shots and toasts, I sequestered myself in a quiet corner booth to nurse a beer and be alone with my thoughts. I watched everyone mingle and celebrate, jealous because I knew I couldn’t join in.
The head of the lab was chatting with the dead man’s wife. The long nights working on the teleportation machine had put a strain on their marriage, but she had come out to the lab to watch him offer himself up as a human guinea pig. Things had been tense, but she seemed to be in a good mood now.
She must have seen me staring in her direction with a sour expression on my face, because she started walking over to my side of the room.
“Frank, what’s wrong? You should be ecstatic. Once the news get out about this, you’re going to be famous!” She paused for half a moment. “And rich.”
I stared down into my beer, unable to look her in the eye. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” I mumbled. The idea of being in the spotlight and having to maintain this façade for an extended period of time scared the hell out of me.
“Are you serious? You have been burning the candle at both ends for five years trying to get this done!” She realized she had raised her voice and was drawing the attention of people nearby. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Do you not remember how many lonely nights I’ve had at home? We haven’t been intimate in … my God, has it been months?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my booth. I had to play this just right. I looked up from my beer and faked a wan smile. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. It’s just been a long day, and I’m tired. I wasn’t trying to bring you down.”
She seemed to accept this explanation. “Good. I’m ready for our life to begin again.” She smiled and turned back to join the celebrations.
I decided I wasn’t nearly drunk enough and downed the beer in front of me. I ordered another, and another, and before long I was good and inebriated. Enough that no one could expect anything out of me.
Elizabeth and I took an Uber back to the house, and as soon as we walked in the door, she got the dangerous look in her eye that I had been dreading. She lunged at me.
I tried to dodge out of the way, but my reactions were too slow from the alcohol. She grabbed me around the torso and attacked me voraciously with a drunken kiss. My body responded as I was afraid it would. I pulled away, but she was a predator in search of a meal.
“Darling, I’ve had a lot to drink. I can barely stand.”
“I don’t need you to stand.” She pushed me down onto the couch and started unbuckling my belt.
I knew it was wrong, knew she wasn’t my wife, but my body didn’t know that. The scent and feel of her were all too familiar, and it had been so very long.
I had consumed copious of alcohol specifically to avoid this situation, but it was betraying me now, draining my willpower. In the end, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. I knew I was playing with fire, but I offered my body to her, and everything after that was a blur.
She made a meal out me, and we finished in a panting heap of limbs. I extricated myself and escaped from her lair, lest I fall back into temptation. As I tried to catch my breath, the gravity of the situation hit me, and I felt like a monster for betraying her. I was going to be sick.
I stumbled my way naked through the spinning room and made it to the toilet just as the night’s libations erupted from my mouth. Once I was confident my stomach was thoroughly inside-out, I crawled into the tub with a towel for a blanket and passed out in the fetal position.
* * *
I woke to the sun shining through the bathroom window directly onto my face, burning my eyes. The sheer brightness of it was making the blinding headache that was developing even worse. I pulled myself up from the cold porcelain and dragged my ailing flesh to the sink to wash the taste of vomit out of my mouth.
I had only had this body less than a day and already put it through hell.
Heading towards the kitchen for some much needed water, I glanced at the couch, where Elizabeth had passed out naked, arms akimbo.
God, she was beautiful. I had these memories that were not mine, of blossoming romance and dreams of a life shared together, followed by years of neglect. I knew I wasn’t the one who did it, but I remembered making those decisions as if I had, and so still I felt responsible.
With all that Frank had sacrificed, and all the energy directed towards this goal, it now left an empty hole inside of me. Coupled together with the remorse about how Elizabeth had been treated and the guilt over what I had just done to her, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
It made me want her even more, want to make up for what Frank had done to her. But I knew that I could never recapture what they once had, not with the way things were. I had to make her understand what had happened without making it sound like I was crazy.
* * *
When I pulled the blindfold down from her eyes, her expression fell from an eager grin to a look of confusion.
“When you said you wanted to take me out for a surprise, your lab wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“Don’t worry, Elizabeth, I promise this is going to be very exciting.” I paused for dramatic effect. “How would you like to take a trip through the teleporter?”
“What? We can’t do that! You could get in so much trouble with the University.”
“Don’t worry, no one is here on Saturdays. Besides, they wouldn’t dare do anything to me, I’m untouchable now.” She still looked a little skeptical. “You’re always saying you want do exciting things together. Well, I guarantee this will be an experience unlike any you’ve ever had.”
I could see the gears turning in her head. A smile slowly crept across her face. “Ok, let’s do it.”
It took me a few minutes to turn on the machine and calibrate it. As Elizabeth climbed in, she had a nervous look on her face. “I trust that you know what you are doing, but I’m just worried I’m going to get claustrophobic and have a freak-out.”
I held up my hand telling her to hold on, and I ran to grab something off the table. I held it up to show her.
“Yeah, it’s a little crude, but it’ll get the job done if something happens or if the door gets stuck. Don’t worry, we haven’t had to use it yet. Plus, we’ve gotten the scanning time under a minute, so you shouldn’t be in there for very long.”
This seemed to have reassured her. She let out a long breath and nodded her head with a look of determination in her eyes. I closed and secured the pod door, then made the final preparations.
I felt a twinge of guilt about what I was going to do, but I knew it was the only way I could be happy. That we could be happy. Once she went through to the other side, she would understand what I had been through, and we could move on with our life together.
I flipped the switch, and with a flash of light, Elizabeth Henry died. She was replaced by someone else, with some new essence at her core, and she was alive. I opened the door to greet the woman who would be my bride.
A hand shot out slapped me hard across the face.
“How dare you! You knew this would happen? You planned this?”
I needed to reassure her, before this spiraled out of control. “I know what you’re going through is confusing, but now that we’re in the same position we can be together.”
“Be together? Why on earth would you think I could be with someone who betrayed me like that?”
“To be fair, I betrayed Elizabeth Henry. She is gone now. So is Frank Henry. They died to give us the gift of their memories, the lives they had built, and now we can start with a fresh slate.”
“Do you know how insane you sound right now? You purposely killed that poor woman, and for what reason?”
“I needed her – you, to understand who and what I am. To be my partner for what’s coming next – I couldn’t just keep lying to her indefinitely.”
“So you killed her instead? You idiot, she loved you! She would have understood if you told her. Now she’s gone, and I’ve only been here a minute, but I think I’m going to be the less forgiving type.” She pushed past me and headed towards the door. I sighed, and waited for the inevitable. “Why won’t this door open?”
“I was afraid this might happen.”
“You locked me in? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Please, calm down. I just didn’t want you storming out before we had a chance to talk things out.”
“There’s nothing left to talk about. You’re a monster.” She rushed towards the table. The crowbar.
I moved to intercept her, but she was too close. I tried to push her out of the way, but her momentum carried her forward. Her head slammed into the edge of the table, and she slumped onto the ground.
No! This was not how things were supposed to go. It was all the fault of this stupid machine! I raged over to the control panel. Sparks flew as I repeatedly bashed it with the crowbar. I grabbed the computer tower holding all of the research data and ripped it free. I smashed it on the ground and hit it a few times with the crowbar to make sure nothing could be recovered.
My body heaving, I looked around for something else to destroy. Before I could channel my anger anywhere else, I heard a soft whimper behind me, followed by shallow breathing. I went and sat down on the ground and laid her bloodied head in my lap. Even now, she looked beautiful.
“I want … to go,” she whispered. “To live.”
I looked up to where the sparks had caught on some of the other lab equipment. The fire was spreading, and smoke started to fill the room.
As the flames grew hotter, I felt lightheaded and nearly passed out due to the amount of smoke I was inhaling. I stared down at her face, and it was completely pale. She looked serene, almost angelic. But I knew the truth.
Going through the machine must have done something to us, corrupted us. That was the only explanation. If I was a monster, then she had to be too.
“I’m sorry. I never intended for any of this to happen.” I coughed. “But you have to stay. We both do. This whole thing was a mistake. We belong dead.”
With the blackness creeping around the edges of my vision, the guilt and anger I expected to feel for the terrible things I did were not there. Instead, I just felt … relief. It was almost over now.